A dry Manuka Oval deck means the Sheffield Shield final could be decided by the battle between Test spinner Nathan Lyon and rising tweaker Ashton Agar, says Western Australia coach Justin Langer.
NSW and WA are back in Canberra for the five-day final from Friday just one week after the Blues secured hosting rights with a nail-biting three-wicket victory at the same ground.
It’s WA’s first final in 15 years, while NSW have won three and lost two since 2002-03.
Langer had a good look at the pitch on Thursday and said it was a lot drier and had less grass on it than it did before their previous match.
“From what we saw last week … it’s definitely going to spin,” Langer said.
That throws big responsibility onto NSW spinners Lyon and Stephen O’Keefe and their WA counterparts, 20-year-old Agar and part-timer Marcus North.
Langer wasn’t playing down his high opinion of Agar, still far better known to the wider public for his 98 runs as a No.11 batsman on Test debut in England last year than his bowling feats.
The WA coach described him on Thursday as “the most exciting young talent in Australia.”
But he was wary of the threat from Lyon.
“He (Lyon) is the current Australian off-spinner, he’s had a fantastic couple of years,” said Langer.
“With our left-armers, there is going to be some rough there for him to bowl into.”
One fast left-armer who won’t be returning to Manuka Oval this week is leading NSW paceman Doug Bollinger, called up to Australia’s squad for the World T20 in Bangladesh.
Langer admitted that was some relief after Bollinger was responsible for two WA batting collapses last week with some devastating pace and swing.
“We weren’t too upset not to see him here,” Langer said.
Bollinger will likely be replaced by Trent Copeland or Gurinder Sandhu, while Australian Test squad member Moises Henriques is set to return for the Blues.
Henriques has missed three Shield finals since his first class debut in 2006 – one through injury, one as 12th man and one through non-selection – and ranks this as the most important game of his career.
While NSW only need a draw to win the Shield, they have declared they’ll go on the attack and allrounder Henriques didn’t expect it to go the five days.
“I’d be very surprised to see a draw. A lot is going to come down to the toss and how the wicket plays,” he said.
While NSW won outright last week, Langer said his side took great confidence from their fightback after being dismissed for 82 in the first innings.
The momentum is arguably in his side’s favour, as Shaun Marsh bounced back from three straight ducks to put on a gritty 113 in the second innings while veteran North enters the match on a high after winning the Shield player the year award on Wednesday.
WA’s Mitchell Marsh is set to overcome a side-strain, however it’s believed he’ll only be used as a specialist batsman.